Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

In the last nine games (May 22-31), the Phillies have scored a grand total of ten runs. The team was shut out in five of those nine matches thanks, in part, to injuries to the right side of the infield, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and third baseman Placido Polanco. The Phillies have replaced Rollins and his .339 weighted on-base average (wOBA) with Juan Castro‘s career .263 and Wilson Valdez‘s .254. Polanco’s .335 wOBA has been swapped with the .314 wOBA belonging to Greg Dobbs and Castro has logged some innings at the hot corner as well.

Along with the inferior substitutes, the bats of the starters have collectively cooled off as well. Ryan Howard has reached base in nine of his 36 plate appearances since May 22 on four singles and five walks. Chase Utley has reached base in only six of his 37 PA on three singles, a triple, and three walks. Jayson Werth is hitless in his last 20 plate appearances, striking 11 times in that span.

How about a look in graph form? (Click to enlarge)

The slump stats (May 22-31):

NAME BB HBP 1B 2B 3B HR ROE PA wOBA
Placido Polanco 3 0 4 1 0 0 0 17 .412
Raul Ibanez 4 0 3 2 1 0 0 28 .344
Ross Gload 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 9 .317
Wilson Valdez 1 0 4 2 0 0 0 22 .309
Carlos Ruiz 3 0 4 1 0 0 0 23 .304
Ben Francisco 1 0 1 2 0 0 0 14 .293
Juan Castro 2 0 2 2 0 0 0 20 .286
Shane Victorino 3 1 6 2 0 0 0 39 .277
Brian Schneider 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 6 .270
Ryan Howard 5 0 4 0 0 0 0 36 .200
Chase Utley 3 0 3 0 1 0 1 37 .198
Jayson Werth 1 0 2 1 0 0 0 28 .134
Greg Dobbs 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 15 .096
TOTAL 29 1 35 13 2 1 1 294 .256

There’s a clear drop-off between career and streak wOBA when you get to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, and Greg Dobbs. Howard and Utley have hit nearly .200 points under his career wOBA while Werth is nearly .250 points under and Dobbs has completely fallen off a cliff. The reason the Phillies aren’t scoring runs? Their 3-4-5 hitters are simultaneously slumping. Between the three of them, they have exactly two extra-base hits in 101 PA. Werth, a maven of plate discipline, has walked only once in his last 28 PA.

Utley has only struck out in 4 of his last 37 PA, which is a good sign and leads us to believe that he has simply been BABIP unlucky for the most part. Howard, on the other hand, is back to whiffing after making frequent contract through the first month and a half. Over the cold streak, Howard has struck out in 32% of his at-bats, matching his career average. As the plate discipline stats on FanGraphs show, Howard has been swinging at a lot of junk outside of the strike zone. And Werth, as mentioned, has struck out in 43% of his at-bats during this cold streak, well above his career average 29%.

So I wouldn’t worry about Utley and Werth’s struggles are likely correctable. Howard’s slump is concerning since he has been turned into a singles hitter. 72% of his hits are singles compared to 50% last year and 49% in 2008. Additionally, his walk rate is 3% lower and he is hitting 7.5% more ground balls and 7% fewer fly balls. More ground balls means more singles and fewer fly balls means fewer doubles and home runs. This could be a function of how opposing pitchers are going after Howard as he has seen lefties in 35% of his PA this year and has seen even fewer pitches in the strike zone than he did last year, 45% to 42%.

However, as I wrote recently, this offensive slump is nothing to fret about although it is frustrating. The core of this offense has helped the team rank among the National League’s best in many offensive categories for three-plus years. That isn’t about to change.

LOL: Lots of Links

I haven’t linked to my work elsewhere in a while, so I’d like to get that out of the way and direct you to the outstanding work of others as well. Additionally, you may notice a new ad on the right-hand sidebar from Google. If you have a few seconds, click on the links. It doesn’t take much effort and it will help pay for the costs of maintaining this website. Thanks!

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The Phillies play the Braves early today — the game starts at 1:05 PM EST. Joe Blanton vs. Tommy Hanson.

Philadelphia’s Golden Age of Baseball

The 1976-83 era Philadelphia Phillies were incredible collections of baseball players. The Phillies had the greatest third baseman of all-time in Mike Schmidt and one of the greatest left-handed starting pitchers of all-time in Steve Carlton. There was the all-out hustle of Pete Rose, the overt power of Greg Luzinski, the sterling defense of Larry Bowa and Garry Maddox, and the lights-out relieving by Tug McGraw. The team made the playoffs in six out of those eight seasons, averaging a .568 winning percentage in that span of time. They reached the World Series twice in a four-year span from 1980-83, winning it once in ’80.

The ’76-83 Phillies, led by Danny Ozark and then by Dallas Green and Pat Corrales, was considered to be the greatest era in Phillies history. Never before had the Phillies even reached the playoffs in two consecutive years, let alone three in a row as they did from ’76-78.

The 2006-10 era Phillies, however, may be Philadelphia’s new golden age of baseball. The team has made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons and, despite recent offensive woes, appears poised to make it four in a row for the first time in franchise history. Presently, the Phillies have enjoyed the prime years of the franchise’s best first baseman, second baseman, and shortstop ever in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins.

After winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2005, Howard broke Schmidt’s single-season home run record in ’06, surpassing Michael Jack’s 48 with 56. Howard would go on to accrue at least 45 HR and 136 RBI in this “golden age”. 2006 also saw one of the greatest defensive plays of all-time when Aaron Rowand went face-first into the centerfield fence in an all-out effort to catch a fly ball hit by Xavier Nady, then of the New York Mets. And if not for the punch-less David Bell at third base, the Phillies could have set a record for most home runs by an infield as Howard, Utley, and Rollins combined for 115 long balls.

The Phillies broke a 13-year playoff dry spell when they won the division on the very last day of the season thanks to an epic meltdown by the Mets in 2007. While the dry spell does not compare to that of 1951-75, the ’07 accomplishment meant a lot given how much adversity the Phillies had to overcome, signified by the franchise’s 10,000 loss in mid-July. Reaching the post-season involved playing .592 baseball in the season’s final three months, including wins in 13 of the final 17 games.

In 2008, Cole Hamels‘ pitching ranked among the best ever by a Phillies left-hander (behind Carlton, of course) and Brad Lidge‘s perfect season made baseball history as one of only two relievers ever to go a full season without blowing a save (Eric Gagne being the other). The Phillies reached the post-season and compiled a veritable reel of highlights, from Brett Myers‘ at-bats against C.C. Sabathia and Chad Billingsley to Shane Victorino‘s grand slam (off of Sabathia) to Matt Stairs‘ beautiful swing for a tie-breaking two-run home run off of Jonathan Broxton to Joe Blanton‘s home run in Game 4 of the World Series to Utley’s heads-up throw to home to nail Jason Bartlett. The team broke a 27-year championship dry spell and quickly brought baseball back into vogue in Philadelphia, previously an area dominated by the Eagles. The championship parade brought over two million visitors to Broad Street. Chase Utley spoke for every Phillies fan across the nation with his WFC exclamation.

The Phillies waved goodbye to a clubhouse stalwart in Pat Burrell and welcomed in Raul Ibanez in 2009. It was the first of many signs the Phillies were not going to be complacent with past achievements. The Phillies took hold of first place at the end of May and never relented. However, Ruben Amaro, successor to Pat Gillick as GM of the Phillies, traded a wealth of prospects to Cleveland for dominant lefty Cliff Lee and also signed free agent Pedro Martinez, one of the best right-handed pitchers ever to play the game. They won the division with relative ease and it turned into the Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez show in the post-season while Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins delivered some key late-inning hits against the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers.

They reached the World Series for the second consecutive year, the first time that has ever been accomplished in Phillies history. While they were dispatched by the New York Yankees in six games, there was no doubt that they had the ability to make it all the way back for the third consecutive year. If the Phillies do so in 2010, they will be the first National League team to make three straight World Series appearances since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals.

During the off-season, the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay, viewed by many as the best pitcher in baseball and at least the best right-handed pitcher in the game. While the cost was Cliff Lee and a swap of prospects, Halladay has justified the transaction thus far. Through 11 starts, he has a 1.99 ERA and has already tossed five complete games, three of which were shut-outs. Of course, one of those shut-outs came last night when he threw baseball’s 20th (and the Phillies’ second) perfect game against the Florida Marlins. He is on pace for 266 innings in 34 starts, which would be the most innings thrown since, well, himself in 2003. And before that, Jack Morris in 1987.

Never before have Phillies fans seen their baseball team so dynamic. The Phillies have been among the best in offense, defense, and base running during this “golden age” and have had some incredible pitching performances to boot.

While the Phillies’ recent offensive woes are frustrating, keep this in perspective. You are watching the greatest group of Phillies ever assembled. This includes the best starting pitcher in the game and the franchise’s best first baseman, second baseman (also the best in the game) and (presently injured) shortstop. And you can make an argument that Jayson Werth belongs in that conversation as well, despite a short track record of success.

The team has been selling out every home game and has gone into the top-five in Major League Baseball in total payroll. The Phillies are so popular (and good) that national broadcasts rushed to cover them, even in spring training. Enjoy this, folks, because it won’t last forever. Don’t get caught up in the frustrations of a two-week offensive slump. This is a truly remarkable Phillies roster poised to once again make history.

Phillies Offense is Just Fine

Oh no! The Phillies have been shut out in three out of their last four games and they have been held scoreless in 37 out of the last 38 innings. Clearly something is amiss!

Since a 12-run outburst against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 17, the Phillies’ offense has collectively hit for a .203 AVG, .282 OBP, and .309 SLG — worse than Eric Bruntlett‘s career numbers. In those eight games, the team has scored only 15 runs, an average of under two per game. This has got to be uncharted territory for the high-octane Phillies offense, right?

Incorrect. Here are some offensive droughts the Phillies have endured over the past few years:

2009

  • May 9-14: 5 games, 14 runs, .176/.291/.320
  • June 16-26: 10 games, 35 runs, .208/.279/.344
  • July 28-August 4: 7 games, 17 runs, .218/.279/.331
  • August 25-September 7: 13 games, 31 runs, .236/.294/.417

2008

  • April 5-10: 6 games, 20 runs, .231/.326/.392
  • June 3-12: 9 games, 33 runs, .226/.318/.365
  • June 17-26: 8 games, 15 runs, .181/.257/.252
  • August 1-9: 8 games, 21 runs, .207/.321/.368
  • August 14-21: 7 games, 19 runs, .203/.252/.323

2007

  • May 15-23: 7 games, 27 runs, .218/.285/.389
  • June 4-11: 8 games, 31 runs, .255/.325/.433
  • August 8-16: 8 games, 32 runs, .227/.304/.373
  • August 18-25: 7 games, 26 runs, .249/.295/.414

As you can see, the Phillies have traditionally hit at least four offensive skids per season. This will hold true for any similarly potent offense or starting rotation or bullpen. No team will average five runs per game and score exactly five runs every game. Sometimes they will score ten and another time they will score zero; sometimes they will score six and another time they will score four. We tend to overlook the times the Phillies’ offense is on fire because we expect it. The Phillies averaged 7.7 runs per game from the start of the 2010 season until April 16.

To quote J.C. Bradbury of Sabernomics on streaks:

Occasionally, these things happen in clumps (like the Braves losing nine games in a row), and fans are quick to respond with disdain and frustration. For example, the data below represent wins (w) and losses (l) in a 162-game season for a .500 team, generated randomly via a computer program (Stata code: generate x=round(uniform(),1)) . Note that this team actually finishes below .500 and has several streaks of wins and losses. In fact, there is an 18-game span where the team has two five-game losing streaks and one six-game losing streak while going 2-16. I imagine the sports pages would have a field day with this team as being one of the worst in baseball, when in fact it is an average team.

l l l l w w l l l w w w w l w w l l l w l w l l l l l w l l l l l w l l l l l l w w w l w w w w w w l w w w l w w w l w w l w w l w l l w w w l w w l l w w l w w w w l l w w w w w l l w w w l l l l w l l w l l l l l l w w w w l w l w w w w w w w l w w l l w w l w w l w w w l w l w l l w w w l w w l w w l w l w w l l l w l
[…]

This has to be frustrating for management, because the belief that random fluctuations represent real and easily-correctable problems can have financial consequences. A good team that plays poorly can translate into losses at the gate. A GM may look at his roster and see a good team that he doesn’t want to change, but “hang on and be patient” doesn’t resonate well among fans who demand answers. How can a GM signal that things are going to get better when the team is already configured optimally?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Phillies at the moment. They are still one of the best offenses in baseball even without Jimmy Rollins and a fully healthy Carlos Ruiz and a struggling Raul Ibanez and a powerless Ryan Howard (71% of his hits have been singles compared to 50% last year). Imagine how fun it will be if and when Rollins is 100% healthy and Ruiz isn’t banged up and Ibanez gets on one of his patented hot streaks and Howard stops hitting like David Eckstein.

That the league’s best offense has been shut out in three out of their last four games has not sat well with most Phillies fans and talking heads. However, the storyline would be a lot different if the Phillies had squeezed just one run in each of those shut-outs. It’s not so much that the Phillies’ offense has been rendered impotent over the last week-plus, but that the label of being shut-out — three times — is a Scarlet letter.

Just as I advocated when Cole Hamels was struggling, Phillies fans need to just ride out this wave of poor play. It is not representative of the big picture; things will turn around.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

2010 is a stark contrast to previous seasons as the Phillies have dealt with injury after injury. Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero started the season on the disabled list due to off-season flexor tendon surgery; Lidge has since returned due to elbow inflammation. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins hasn’t been able to keep his calf in working order, first with a grade-two strain, more recently with a grade-one. Joe Blanton started the year on the shelf as well with a left oblique strain, and J.A. Happ soon joined him with a left forearm strain. Ryan Madson got angry and kicked a folding chair, breaking his right big toe. And bench players Brian Schneider and Juan Castro dealt with strains of their own of the left Achilles and the left hamstring respectively. (Carlos Ruiz is also hurting.)

It’s been a struggle for sure, but the Phillies still find themselves three games ahead in the tightly-bunched NL East, eight games above .500. Charlie Manuel came into the season expecting to use a lineup of Rollins-Polanco-Utley-Howard-Werth-Ibanez-Victorino-Catcher-Pitcher but has only used that order once after April 12. Even worse, Manuel’s top-two options for the closer’s role have gone down in Lidge and Madson, forcing Jose Contreras to step up — something he has handled with great aplomb.

Just how badly have the Phillies been bitten by the injury bug?

Player Absent Injury $/Gm $ to Date Injury Cost
Brad Lidge 35 R Flexor Tendon Surgery / R Elbow Inflammation $74,074 $3.33M $2.59M
Jimmy Rollins 32 R Calf Strain (Grade II, Grade I) $52,469 $2.36M $1.68M
Ryan Madson 24 R Toe Fracture $29,835 $1.34M $0.72M
Joe Blanton 24 L Oblique Strain $18,519 $0.83M $0.44M
J.C. Romero 16 L Flexor Tendon Surgery $26,235 $1.18M $0.42M
J.A. Happ 34 L Forearm Strain $2,901 $0.13M $0.10M
Brian Schneider 13 L Achilles Strain $6,944 $0.31M $0.09M
Juan Castro 9 L Hamstring Strain $4,321 $0.19M $0.04M
TOTAL 187 $9.69M $6.08M

(Click the graph to view a larger version)

The blue bars indicate the amount of money each player would have earned if he had “contributed” in each of the team’s first 45 games. The red bars indicate the amount of money each player has collected while sitting on the disabled list (games missed times game salary).

Overall, the eight players on the list are collectively owed $9.69 million through 45 games but have only been healthy enough to earn $3.61 million of it (37%). The 28 players who have been on the 25-man roster have earned $39.43 million through 45 games; the $6.08 million represents more than 15% of that.

Last year, the New York Mets lost nearly $55 million to injuries, representing about 37% of their total payroll for the season. The 2008 Mets weren’t too fortunate, either — they lost more than $27 million, about 20% of their payroll. (Via Jeff Zimmerman, Beyond the Box Score)

Mets Series Preview: Joe Janish

Fellow member of ESPN’s SweetSpot blog network Joe Janish was nice enough to get involved in a Q&A, previewing the upcoming series between the Phillies and Mets. His questions and my answers can be found at his blog Mets Today by clicking here.

. . .

1. How much patience do the Mets have with Jose Reyes? He’s currently sporting a .550 OPS.

Plenty. Number one, because the guy was sitting on a couch for over a month — literally. The Mets have only themselves to blame for rushing him back; it was unrealistic to expect an athlete to return to world-class condition in one week after being completely sedentary for six weeks. Number two, there isn’t any alternative — the next-best shortstop in the organization that is anywhere close to MLB-ready is Ruben Tejada, and he isn’t as close as the front office would like you to think, and he is AT BEST another Anderson Hernandez. Reyes may struggle for a little while longer, but eventually he’ll get back into the swing of things. Though, we may not see it until the Mets are so far behind it won’t matter.

2. The Mets are near the bottom of the National League in a lot of offensive categories. Will the Mets be looking to acquire a bat at the trade deadline?

No. As bad as the Mets’ offense is, their pitching is worse — so if a deal is to be made, it HAS to be for an arm. The fact they have not given Chris Carter a shot to merely platoon with the offensively anemic Jeff Francouer suggests that they will “go with the horses they came with”. Other than right field, there isn’t really any position where there is an opportunity to make an improvement. David Wright, Jason Bay, Jose Reyes, and possibly Ike Davis are pretty much set for the season at their respective positions. As bad as Rod Barajas is, he’s doing what the Mets want — hit homeruns — and there aren’t many offensive-minded backstops available anyway. Luis Castillo is immovable, and again, the trade wire is void of second sackers with punch. Angel Pagan is filling in admirably for Carlos Beltran, and, yet again, a better-performing centerfielder would be hard to come by. That leaves Francoeur, but Mets seem intent on waiting out his slump.

3. Speaking of trades, do the Mets have the prospects to make a deal for Roy Oswalt of the Houston Astros?

Doubtful. The best they have to offer is Jennry Mejia and Fernando Martinez, but the fan base would go ape if either of those youngsters were moved. Further, I’m not sure the Astros would be interested in either of them.

4. After Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey, the Mets rotation isn’t looking too good. Aside from a deal for a star pitcher like Roy Oswalt or Cliff Lee, how can the Mets patch up the back of the rotation?

It can’t happen from within, unless RA Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi pitch well above their heads. Even then, there’s still an empty spot in the rotation, assuming Oliver Perez doesn’t return there. The shortsighted decision to bring Mejia north as an MLB reliever rather than let him continue developing as a starter in the minors is biting the Mets in the butt very hard right now. The best the Mets have to turn to down on the farm include journeymen Pat Misch and Bobby Livingston and fringe prospects Tobi Stoner and Dillon Gee. The pickings are slim. Their best hope is that someone is willing to give up an MLB-caliber starter for Dan Murphy, because their trade chips are equally underwhelming.

5. The bullpen has been decent for the Mets so far, but do the high walk rates set off any alarms?

The bullpen did well in April, but Jerry Manuel’s pedal-to-the-metal “management” is already seeing its ill effects. Manuel has been managing for his job since Opening Day, and mixing and matching relievers as if every contest were Game Seven of the World Series (Fernando Nieve and Pedro Feliciano are first and second in the NL in appearances, and on pace to appear in 97 games by the end of the season). Add in the fact that John Maine and Ollie Perez rarely made it through (or to) the fifth frame of starts, and what you have now is a bullpen that is starting to break down now, and is poised to continue a downward spiral. Yes, the high walk rates are a major concern.

BONUS: Moyer-Dickey, Blanton-Takahashi, and Hamels-Pelfrey are the pitching match-ups. How do you see the series panning out?

Strangely enough, for all my negativity, I’m liking the Mets chances in this particular series — mainly because they’re missing Roy Halladay. Also, I think that there is an outside chance that Dickey’s knuckler could dance enough to keep the Phillies off-balance, and both he and Takahashi have the benefit of mystery right now — meaning, Phillies hitters and the scouting reports are not familiar with the two hurlers. As for Hamels-Pelfrey, I’m liking what I’m seeing of Pelfrey lately, and have yet to be convinced that Hamels can be the pitcher he was two years ago. With a little luck, the Mets could pull out two wins — and their 16-9 at home suggests they could get “lucky”. Oh, and it’s going to be more difficult for Mick Billmeyer to pick off the catcher’s signs from the sharp angle of Citi Field’s bullpen. ;-)

. . .

Tip of the cap to Joe for being unbiased about his team. Now let’s hope the Phillies can sweep the Mets!

Explaining Roy Halladay’s Futility

Phillies ace Roy Halladay, perceived by many to be the best pitcher in Major League Baseball, was knocked around to the tune of seven runs (six earned) in five and two-thirds innings yesterday in the series finale against the Boston Red Sox. Many in Philadelphia had yet to see Halladay as anything other than the epitome of perfection, so the shellacking was startling to say the least. Good pitchers don’t give up seven runs and fai to make it through the sixth inning, after all.

The Internet was instantly ablaze with excuse-making for Halladay’s first truly bad start as a Philadelphia Phillie. As expected, the most common explanation was that Halladay pitched poorly due to manager Charlie Manuel overworking him — he had thrown triple-digit pitches in eight straight starts and averaged over 122 pitches in his four starts prior to yesterday. If Roy Halladay was overworked, we would expect to see a decline in his velocity, no?

This table shows his average velocity on his three fastballs in each inning:

Inning FF FT FC
1 91.9 92.3 91.9
2 91.8 92.5
3 92.4 92.0
4 91.4 92.6 92.2
5 92.2 93.0 91.4
6 91.9 91.8 91.8
GM AVG 91.8 92.4 91.9
2010 AVG 92.3 92.4
91.2

FC = Cutter | FT = Two-seamer/sinker | FF = Four-seamer

While Halladay’s four-seam fastball was 0.5 MPH slower than his 2010 average, his two-seamer stayed the same and his cutter actually had more velocity.

In graph form:

The dip in velocity for his two-seamer in the sixth inning is likely going to catch the eye of many, but it dropped to about 91.8 which is only about 0.5 MPH slower than his 2010 average. Given the small sample size, this certainly should not raise any eyebrows. The standard deviation on his 2010 two-seamer is about 1.5 MPH.

While it is certainly rational to want to limit a star pitcher’s workload in seemingly meaningless games in May, Roy Halladay may simply be an anomaly. Last year, after three consecutive starts in which he threw 119, 117, and 117 pitches, he dominated the New York Yankees in his next start — a complete game victory on May 12 in which he allowed only one run on five hits and did not issue a walk. He also started off September with five straight starts in which he threw 111, 108, 112, 115, and 114 pitches. He finished September with three complete game shut-outs in six starts.

There are more rational explanations for Halladay’s struggles yesterday. Let’s examine them.

Randomness

A Crashburn Alley article that doesn’t cite random statistical variation? You’re not going to find it. J.C. Bradbury of Sabernomics introduced me to a great quote by Leonard Mlodinow, author of The Drunkard’s Walk:

We miss the effects of randomness in life because when we assess the world, we tend to see what we expect to see. We in effect define degree of talent by degree of success and then reinforce our feelings of causality by noting the correlation. That’s why although there is sometimes little difference in ability between a wildly successful person and one who is not successful, there is usually a big difference in how they are viewed.

When I read that quote, I think of Cole Hamels of course, but I also think it can be applied to Halladay’s performance yesterday. Halladay could throw the same exact pitches in the same exact locations to the same exact batters in the same exact situations and he will almost always experience drastically different results due to factors completely out of his control, even beyond BABIP and HR/FB%.

Boston’s Familiarity

The Boston Red Sox are very familiar with Roy Halladay since he spent so much time in the AL East as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. Boston batters have compiled 1,159 plate appearances in 275 innings against him in his career. Going into yesterday’s game, eight members of the Red Sox had stepped to the plate at least 20 times against Halladay. Their book on Halladay likely resembles Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Combining with “randomness” explained above, Halladay’s career 4.39 ERA against the Red Sox is a lot higher than his estimated 3.16 xFIP.

Halladay Was Not Good

Roy Halladay is human, after all. His start yesterday earned him a game score of 26 which is pretty bad. However, of his 297 career starts, he has finished 21 of them (7%) with a game score of 26 or worse. Of course, the distribution of those games is heavily weighted towards the beginning of his career in 1999-2000.

Cliff Lee, to be forever compared to Halladay in Philadelphia, started off his Phillies career with a 0.68 ERA through his first five starts. However, he slowed down at the end of August and into September. In three starts from August 29 to September 9, Lee allowed 17 runs in 15 innings. Was he fatigued? After all, he averaged over 112 pitches in his first five starts as a Phillie.

Red Sox Hitters Were Good

Simply put, a lineup consisting of Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Beltre, J.D. Drew, and David Ortiz is capable of hanging a lot of crooked numbers even on the best pitchers in baseball. Let’s not forget they hung five runs on C.C. Sabathia on Opening Day, four on Zack Greinke on April 10, and five on Francisco Liriano last Thursday. Credit the Red Sox for putting some good swings on Halladay.

Defense

The tenet behind metrics like xFIP and SIERA is that there are many factors out of a pitcher’s control. One of those factors is the conversion of batted balls into outs by the pitcher’s defense, hence DIPS: Defense-Independent Pitching Statistics.

Of the Phillies’ 28 errors, nine of them (32%) have come in games started by Roy Halladay. The defense simply has not played well for him. That was exemplified yesterday when Greg Dobbs let a ground ball through the five-hole. It was a sure inning-ending 5-4-3 double play, but it got through Dobbs into left field and allowed two Red Sox batters to score, increasing the lead to 3-0.

While there is merit to wanting to limit Halladay’s workload, there is no evidence that the 490 pitches he threw over his last four starts reduced his effectiveness yesterday against the Red Sox. As the great game of baseball goes, yesterday was a combination of a lot of different factors — randomness, most importantly. Sometimes pitchers have bad days and sometimes hitters have good days. There need not be a deeper causal relationship beyond that.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

A look at the pitching staff, comparing ERA to SIERA.

Pitcher ERA SIERA DIFF
Ryan Madson 7.00 2.86 4.14
Kyle Kendrick 5.66 5.00 0.66
Joe Blanton 5.06 4.43 0.63
Cole Hamels 3.92 3.38 0.54
Jamie Moyer 4.30 4.30 0.00
David Herndon 4.40 4.43 -0.03
Danys Baez 4.91 5.21 -0.30
Antonio Bastardo 2.35 3.04 -0.69
Jose Contreras 0.63 1.43 -0.80
Chad Durbin 2.76 3.69 -0.93
Brad Lidge 2.70 3.82 -1.12
Roy Halladay 1.64 3.02 -1.38
Nelson Figueroa 3.78 5.41 -1.63
J.C. Romero 3.18 4.92 -1.74
J.A. Happ 0.00 6.50 -6.50

The table is sorted by the difference between the two figures. The pitchers at the top are the “unluckiest” while those at the bottom are the “luckiest”. Any surprise that Cole Hamels and Ryan Madson are at the top?

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)

You can see a similar graph and analysis on the Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff in my latest article at Baseball Daily Digest.

The Big Truck Gets Big Outs

Since 1990, only three Phillies relievers with at least 50 IP have finished a season with an ERA below 2.00. Billy Wagner did it in 2005 with a 1.51 ERA, Rheal Cormier did it in ’03 with a 1.70 ERA, and of course Brad Lidge did it in ’08 with a 1.95 ERA. Even if we go back to 1980, only Tug McGraw (1.46 in ’80) and Roger McDowell (1.11 in ’89) are added to the list.

Jose Contreras, the Phillies’ de facto closer in the wake of injuries to Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson, has a chance to compile the best season by a Phillies reliever in the last 30 years. Big Truck, as Charlie Manuel likes to call him, currently sits on an ERA lower than his WHIP, 0.63 to 0.70 and he has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 20-to-2. If the season finished today, Contreras would have the highest strikeout rate and the lowest walk rate among the Phillies’ best relievers since 1980 as he is on pace for 81 strikeouts and 8 walks in 58 innings.

Since 1980, among relievers who have pitched at least 50 innings, a mere 73 have finished a season with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.0 or higher. Contreras currently sits at 10.0, which would rank fourth-best in the last 30 years if the season ended today.

Rk Player SO/BB IP Year Age Tm G GF SV BB SO
1 Dennis Eckersley 18.33 57.2 1989 34 OAK 51 46 33 3 55
2 Dennis Eckersley 18.25 73.1 1990 35 OAK 63 61 48 4 73
3 Mariano Rivera 12.83 70.2 2008 38 NYY 64 60 39 6 77
4 Dennis Eckersley 9.67 76.0 1991 36 OAK 67 59 43 9 87
5 Jonathan Papelbon 9.63 69.1 2008 27 BOS 67 62 41 8 77
6 John Smoltz 9.13 64.1 2003 36 ATL 62 55 45 8 73
7 Doug Jones 9.11 80.1 1997 40 MIL 75 73 36 9 82
8 Rafael Betancourt 8.89 79.1 2007 32 CLE 68 15 3 9 80
9 Dennis Eckersley 8.45 80.0 1992 37 OAK 69 65 51 11 93
10 Dennis Eckersley 8.17 60.0 1996 41 STL 63 53 30 6 49
11 J.J. Putz 8.00 78.1 2006 29 SEA 72 57 36 13 104
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/21/2010.

It is fair to say that Contreras is putting up Eckersleyan numbers out of the Phillies’ bullpen. The big question is, “Is it sustainable?”

Contreras was recently moved to the bullpen, so we do not have a good sample from which to draw conclusions. The Colorado Rockies converted Contreras from a starter to a reliever in late September last year after a right thigh strain. There, he threw seven and one-third innings in five appearances during the regular season and two innings in two appearances in the Division Series against the Phillies. However, during his days as a starter, Contreras never finished a season with a K/BB ratio higher than 2.4.

The strikeouts-per-nine rate of 12.6 seems unsustainable but Contreras has added a significant amount of velocity to each of his pitches as a reliever. His four-seamer last year averaged 92.0 MPH; this year, 94.5. His ’09 two-seamer: 77.6 MPH; this year, 81.3. And his slider last year: 84.8 MPH; this year, 88.5. In a sample of merely 14 innings, it is possible that these velocities will regress. Contreras may tire as the season grows longer. (However, warmer temperatures should also increase velocity by a small amount.)

His walk rate also seems fluky at 1.3 per nine innings. Since 1980, there have been 59 reliever-seasons with at least 50 IP and a K/9 rate of 12.0 or higher. Under the same criteria, there have been only 31 reliever-seasons with a BB/9 rate of 1.3 or lower. Throughout his starting career, Contreras displayed good but not great control with a career BB/9 of 3.3.

Contreras has induced swings at exactly the same rate as he did last year, 44.1%. However, this year he is inducing about 7% fewer swings at pitches in the strike zone and nearly 9% more swings at pitches outside the strike zone. It is no surprise that hitters are making contact 16% less than they did in ’09.

Right-handers haven’t done anything against Contreras this year as they are hitting for a .227 OPS against him (excluding yesterday’s appearance). Left-handers have a more respectable .715 OPS. In 2009, right-handers hit for a higher OPS than lefties. The difference could, of course, be attributed to a fluke within a very small sample. However, there is a noticeable change in his release point both against RH vs. LH and between 2009 and ’10.

RHH, 2009-10:

LHH, 2009-10:

(Those two fastballs all by themselves on the right on the 2009 chart are likely due to the Pitch F/X data entrant forgetting to append a negative sign.)

Contreras actually toyed with his release point against right-handed batters throughout 2009. A look at his release points by month:

Pitch F/X data and charts via Texas Leaguers.

It looks like Contreras settled on a three-quarters release point and it has been working out well for him thus far. It may even explain the tremendous success he has been enjoying in 2010. His success probably isn’t due to the medifast diet.

Overall, Contreras’ ERA is clearly lower than we should expect based on how he has pitched, but he has pitched extremely well as his 1.51 SIERA displays. As the Phillies entered 2010 with Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero on the disabled list and Ryan Madson soon joined them, the Jose Contreras free agent signing may prove to be the most important to the team this season. Given his strikeout stuff, he has been by far the Phillies’ best option to handle high leverage innings as his conversion of six of seven shutdown opportunities has shown.

When Ryan Madson‘s broken toe heals, should the Phillies return him to the set-up spot and continue to let Contreras close? As big a Madson supporter as I’ve been, even I have to say that Contreras is the better option for the final three outs (assuming, of course, that leveraging relievers instead of putting them in pre-defined roles is out of the question).

Checking in with Brett Myers

Brett Myers is forever emblazoned in Phillies history as the pitcher who took a line drive off of his coconut and pitched a complete game anyway got the final out of the regular season in 2007, clinching the team’s first post-season berth since 1993. His tenure in Philadelphia was a rocky ride from the expectations as a first-round draft pick in 1999 (in the same class as Josh Beckett, Ben Sheets, and Barry Zito), to out-dueling Mark Prior in his Major League debut in 2002, to the domestic abuse incident in June 2006, to a switch from starter to closer and a shoulder injury in ’07, to a torn labrum in ’09, to his first taste of free agency during last off-season.

Myers’ pitching career as a Phillie is best summed up as “what could have been”. There was never any doubt that he had the stuff to be one of the dominant pitchers in baseball, but he was never able to put it together after a terrific 2005 season. He had displayed good stuff and more importantly good control during his four-year stint in the Minors from ages 18 to 21. However, in his first three years in the Majors, his strikeout rate left a lot to be desired and he had trouble finding the plate at times.

In 2005, he led an otherwise uninspiring starting rotation in ERA and found a way to miss bats when he added a cutter to his repertoire. He averaged under six strikeouts per nine innings in ’04; that number ballooned to 8.7 in ’05. Additionally, he finally fell under three walks per nine. His 3.43 SIERA was 11th-best in the Majors among pitchers who accrued at least 150 innings of work. Phillies fans were envisioning a one-two punch of Myers and mega-prospect Cole Hamels for years to come.

While Myers kept the success going in 2006, a shaky first three starts of the ’07 season and the health of Tom Gordon led the Phillies to convert Myers into a set-up guy and eventually a closer. He thrived out of the bullpen, compiling a 2.61 ERA while converting six saves and three holds in 18 appearances before a late May shoulder injury sidelined him for two months. He returned at the end of July and it was as if nothing had changed. He made 30 more appearances, compiling a 3.03 ERA and converting 15 saves. The season culminated in storybook fashion when Myers threw his signature knee-buckling curve to freeze Wily Mo Pena for the last out of Game #162. Myers tossed his glove as high into the air as he could, for the Phillies were going to the playoffs.

The Phillies were quickly dispatched by the eventual NL Champion Colorado Rockies in the Division Series, but the Phillies would make a return to the post-season. Myers did not play an integral role in the team’s regular season success, but he made a name for himself in the playoffs for peculiar reasons. Against the vaunted C.C. Sabathia of the Milwaukee Brewers, Myers saw a whopping 19 pitches in two at-bats. In the first at-bat, he drew a nine-pitch walk and was on base when Shane Victorino hit his never-to-be-forgotten grand slam over the left field fence. Myers flied out to right-center but not before forcing Sabathia to toss another ten pitches. In two at-bats, Myers by himself had forced Sabathia to throw what is about 20% of a typical pitcher’s workload.

Myers’ offensive prowess was on display in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers as well. Against Chad Billingsley, Myers collected two hits in two at-bats and drove in three runs against the young right-hander. In his third at-bat against James McDonald, Myers weakly dribbled the ball down the third base line for his third hit of the game. In what would be his last hurrah as a Phillie, Myers tossed a quality start in Game 2 of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

2009 would prove to be a struggle as Myers battled injuries and ineffectiveness. In his ten starts before hitting the disabled list, Myers could only muster a 4.66 ERA. However, he worked extremely hard to return to full health and threw out of the bullpen in the final month of the season to mixed reviews. He also made two post-season appearances but was ineffective. Given his age, price, and history of inconsistency, the Phillies decided to part ways with Myers after the ’09 season.

Current Astros GM and former Phillies GM Ed Wade picked up Myers on a one-year deal. The 29-year-old right-hander has been one of the very few bright spots on a depressing Houston roster. Myers currently sports a 3.67 ERA and, while he doesn’t have the strikeout stuff he used to have with the Phillies, he has been inducing ground balls at a more frequent rate — not a bad idea with the Crawford Boxes within arm’s reach. He has been a workhorse for the Astros, averaging nearly seven innings per start. It is quite depressing to think about just how bad the 14-26 Astros would be without Myers.

Back in January, I wrote about why, despite Myers’ domestic abuse incident and public tirades, I would be rooting for Brett in his new hometown of Houston. I’m glad to report that he’s doing just fine. And hey, since there has been talk about the Astros cutting salary in the form of trading Roy Oswalt and/or Lance Berkman, maybe the Phillies could re-acquire Myers. He is earning only $3.1 million on the season, which would mean that he would cost between $1-2 million for the remainder of 2010. He also has a cheap $2 million mutual option for 2011. Myers would also be cheap in the terms of talent relinquished in a trade, since the Astros will need to require Myers’ new suitor to take on salary.